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Virginia Purges Eligible Voters Weeks Before Hotly Contested Election

“[The purge] already had a chilling effect on Virginians’ participation in early voting,” voting rights advocates say.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the Economic Club of Washington's luncheon event at the Marriott Marquis on September 26, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Voting rights groups are condemning Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) administration after the Virginia Department of Elections admitted to purging eligible voters from the state’s rolls just weeks before the state’s hotly contested legislative election.

“It is unacceptable that we are two weeks into early voting and the Youngkin administration does not even know how many Virginians they wrongfully purged from the voter rolls,” Aaron Mukerjee, voter protection director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement.

Virginia is the only state in the U.S. where people convicted of a felony automatically lose their right to vote unless the governor restores their voting rights. According to VPM, a Virginia public media group, more than 17,000 eligible voters were illegally removed from the state’s rolls as a result of policy changes by ELECT that aimed to remove people from voter rolls who had had their right to vote restored but had later been convicted of a new felony.

However, the thousands of eligible voters who had their voting rights rescinded had technical probation violations, not new felonies. The Virginia State Police (VSP), which is responsible for reporting new felony convictions to the Virginia Department of Elections, had mistakenly provided ELECT with the data of individuals who had committed probation violations, in addition to those who had new felony convictions. Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller told VPN that this mistake “inadvertently disqualif[ied] individuals whose rights were previously restored by the former Governor.”

“The Virginia Constitution is very clear: once someone’s right to vote has been restored, a technical probation violation is not grounds to take it away again,” the ACLU of Virginia said in a statement. “The Youngkin administration shouldn’t be in the business of disenfranchising Virginians, and it shouldn’t be in the business of keeping voters in the dark. No administration should get to pick and choose who gets to vote, and that includes this one.”

State election officials are working to identify the voters whose registration “may have been canceled in error,” Susan Beals, commissioner of the Department of Elections, said in a statement. “We are taking great care to identify each person affected and working to reinstate their registration immediately.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia is calling for a full investigation into the Youngkin administration over the purging of eligible voters. “[T]he decisions made by Youngkin and his administration have served to make this illegal purge anything but accidental,” Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement. “[The Purge] is a criminal affront to the basic foundations of democracy.”

Virginia is two weeks into early voting in a consequential election that has broad implications for abortion rights in the state. This election is so critical that the Democratic National Committee recently injected $1.2 million into Virginia’s electoral campaigns, and Vice President Kamala Harris made a recent appearance in the state to launch a college tour with the goal of mobilizing young voters.

However, voting rights advocates are concerned that ELECT’s voter roll purge may have a chilling effect on Virginians’ participation in the election.

“Virginians are actively being disenfranchised in this election by extremist policies designed to make it harder to vote and easier to cheat,” Mukerjee said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: If they take total control in November, MAGA Republicans will do everything in their power to take away the right to vote.”

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